CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Bell tolls for historic Fanling church

HONG KONG (SE): The bell tolled for the old St. Joseph’s church in Fanling on July 17, as the last Sunday Mass was celebrated in the 63-year-old house of prayer, which is to be incorporated into a new structure capable of accommodating a congregation that is swelling with the rising population in the area.

The church on Wo Tai Street, has finally become too small and, at the conclusion of the 11:30am Mass, a ceremony to farewell the old building and welcome the transition into the future was held.

Since July 23, all Saturday night and the Sunday Masses are being celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi College, 1 Yan Shing Lane, Fanling, but for the time being, daily Masses and parish office activities will maintain operations at Wo Tai Street.

During the second stage of the transition, all the activities at the old address will move to a venue yet to be announced.

During the final Mass, the parish priest, Father Francesco Conte, said there was no need to grieve, even though they were saying goodbye to the old building.

He said he believes God will still see his people’s continuous devotion to serving in the parish. 

Father Conte added that the parish needs to expand its premises to cater to the rapid growth in population over recent years, so the rebuilding project is really something to celebrate.

He pointed out that the renovation will create accommodation for more people and that a bigger complex with better facilities will allow more scope for its services and activities, which are an important part of parish life.

Father Conte also expressed his gratitude for the support that the parish has received from the diocese during the transition period.

The Mass ended in a procession from the church with parish groups bearing the sacred vessels and the liturgical ministers holding colourful flags aloft.

As visitors from all over the city came to witness the historic occasion, the bell in the 63-year-old church building tolled for five minutes, while Father Conte thanked the parishioners one by one.

Father Conte then symbolically closed the door of the church as parish life began the move to its temporary accommodation at St. Francis of Assisi College.

The old church has served Fanling for over six decades. After renovation and expansion of the building, it will be able to accommodate around 800 people, a significant up on the previous 160.

When Hong Kong was raised from the status of vicariate to diocese in 1946 at the end of World War II, huge development took place in all parts of the New Territories.

The west was divided into Taipo and Tsuen Wan Districts. Father Ambrose Poletti, from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, was assigned by the first bishop of the diocese, Bishop Henry Valtorta, to Taipo, which at the time included Fanling and Sheung Shui.

Father Poletti recognised the importance of setting up a mission base in Fanling and started by renting the former residence of Tang Kun-leung, now the site of Pui Ling School run by the Sisters of the Precious Blood in On Lok Mun Street.

At that time, there were 20 to 30 people coming to Mass, mostly from the indigenous farming villages.

In the 1950s, Father Poletti was given a piece of land on the current site by Chu Yan-kit. St. Joseph’s church was completed in 1953, choosing its patron as a role model for the hard working labourers in the area. It was blessed by Bishop Lawrence Bianchi in 1954.

In its early days it served as the first stop for missionaries being expelled from China, many of whom got their first opportunity to go inside a church in years, as well have a bath, a good meal, put on clean clothes and sleep in a bed.

The population of Fanling grew quickly between 1950 and 1960 with the influx of refugees from China and the number of factories and buildings gradually increased.

In response to the growing needs of the population, the parish, in cooperation with the Sisters of the Precious Blood and the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban, began to provide vital social services in the area, especially in the fields of medical care, supplementing people’s dietary needs, child care and education.

The church was listed as a Grade Three Historic Building by the Antiquities and Monuments Office in 2011.

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